I was reading
“Cleopatra: a Life” by Stacy Schiff recently. Cleopatra was
evidently a well-educated woman of style, ambition and
audacity. Indeed she was undoubtedly an “uppity woman”.
During the years, my husband has given me several of the
“Uppity Women” series. There is one on Uppity Women in the
Middle Ages, and the Renaissance Era, probably the
Industrial Revolution and others. They consist of vignettes
of women who have done outstanding things long before Gloria
Steinem burned her bra and Betty Friedan stridently exhorted
women to rise up and make waves!
Alderson school system during the 1930s,1940s and 1950s had many
women like this. They taught Cursive handwriting, English,
Arithmetic, Geography, Spelling, Health & Hygiene, History, Good
Manners, Sewing and Cooking, Music, even Conflict Resolution,
indeed, many other life skills. Miss Jones, Miss Echols, Miss McVey,
Mrs. Skaggs, Mrs. Keadle, Mrs. Macmillan are but a few names that
come to mind.
one I remember most vividly, however, is Miss Stella Nelson. Miss
Nelson’s father, Charles Marion Nelson, was a teacher, as was her
mother, Elizabeth Kershner Nelson and all three of her sisters, too.
near Wolf Creek on February 26, 1891, she attended the Baptist
Academy, Concord Normal School and received her AB degree from
William and Mary College. Miss Nelson also did graduate work at
West Virginia University, University of Chicago and the University
of Kentucky, and, she was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. Wow!
teaching career began in a one-room schoolhouse in the Wolf Creek
community in Monroe County. She later taught in the Alderson
Elementary schools, was Principal and teacher at Gary No. 4 Mining
operation in McDowell County and at the Alderson Jr. Baptist
Academy. Miss Nelson’s resume also includes serving as supervisor of
elementary education in Henrico County, Virginia.
fall of 1931, Miss Stella Nelson joined the faculty at Alderson High
School where she taught English and Mathematics for 28 years. During
World War II, she was also the Principal of A.H.S.
of us who went through school there in the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s
should well remember the English classes. During my years, we had a
Prose and Poetry book for literature and workbooks for English
Grammar. Each year the new textbooks reinforced what we had learned
previously, then went further to open new horizons as well. Those
workbooks should be required for every school in the nation today.
Anyone who completed all of them should never have forgotten how to
properly use “bring and take”, “lie and lay”, and “sit and set”.
of us would EVER dare to say “between you and I”, or “Susie and me
are going to town”. We all had exercises on the subjunctive,
learning the sadly, now lost “If I HAD gone to town, I WOULD HAVE
mailed the letter. It seems that “would of”or “woulduv” has poisoned
the language of today.
yes, Miss Nelson’s English Classes… I remember the time one boy had
not done his homework and Miss Nelson sent him packing to Mr.
Mitchell’s office. He went strolling down the hall singing “Here
comes Heaven Again” at the top of his lungs, but the next day,
considerably chastened, he handed in the assignment.
was the student, who, when asked to interpret the poetry, “I wrapped
the draperies of my couch about me and lay down to pleasant dreams”
told the class it was “about some guy who rolled up in the window
curtains and nodded off on the sofa.”
Despite these and many other even more colorful stories, I never saw
Miss Nelson lose her composure. She had dark hair, streaked with
gray, always worn in a neat bun at the nape of her neck. Even on the
most hectic of days, she rarely had more than one or two wisps
escaping the hairpins at the end of the day. Her posture was
impeccable, straight spine, regal carriage, serious expression, but
if one looked closely behind the glasses there was a usually hint of
humor in her eyes.
However, in addition to English and Mathematics, Miss Nelson also
sponsored the Thespian Club and the “Aldersonian”. She undertook
these tasks without the extra pay that teachers today get for such
endeavors, if they even deign to undertake them. I cannot remember
whether we used that jelly stuff to print the paper, or whether we
had advanced to a mimeograph machine by then. I do remember lectures
on proper layout, interview techniques, and the “who, what, where,
when and why rules” as well as serious talks on responsible
Thespians were another matter. It was in 1937-1938 that Miss
Neslon’s Senior Class presented “Tomahawk”. It was widely acclaimed
and was the first of many annual productions for Alderson High
School. It must have been difficult for her to find something
worthwhile that we could do without paying exorbitant royalties year
after year. She directed, produced, designed the sets and cajoled
the shop teachers into helping build them.
favorite performance was “Little Women.” I was cast as Jo and I was
supposed to climb out a window at the rear of the stage. During
dress rehearsal, I caught my long skirt on a nail and fell through
with a terrible crash almost destroying the set.
Finally, in 1958, Miss Nelson was named “Teacher of the Year” an
honor long and well deserved.
Stella Nelson was an amazing woman for her time and place and each
and every one of us is richer for her dedication, integrity and
tireless efforts on behalf of her students and her community.